Review: ‘The Way of Kings’ by Brandon Sanderson

Speak again the ancient oaths,

Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.

And return to men the Shards they once bore.
The Knights Radiant must stand again.

Roshar is a world of stone swept by tempests that shape ecology and civilization. Animals and plants retract; cities are built in shelter. In centuries since ten orders of Knights fell, their Shardblade swords and Shardplate armor still transform men into near-invincible warriors. Wars are fought for them, and won by them.

In one such war on the ruined Shattered Plains, slave Kaladin struggles to save his men and fathom leaders who deem them expendable, in senseless wars where ten armies fight separately against one foe.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Fascinated by the ancient text named The Way of Kings and troubled by visions of ancient times, he doubts his sanity.

Across the ocean, Shallan trains under eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece Jasnah. Though Shallan genuinely loves learning, she plans a daring theft. Her research hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

Brandon Sanderson is a world-building, story-crafting genius. I strongly recommend his works if you like your fantasy on the EPIC side of epic — Goodreads tells me the hardcover of The Way of Kings is over 1000 pages. I listened to this on audiobook and it was 45+ hours long. That is a lot of 30-minute commutes.

Still, the time commitment is worth it.

I started out a little concerned, because Sanderson does something a little unorthodox in modern fiction and starts you off with not one but two prologues. I felt a little dropped in the deep end, and wanted to get to the main character so I could begin to learn about this new world. But Sanderson came good. And, boy, do we get to know this world. With a book this big, he can immerse you in many of the cultures, let you see how different characters think, let the characters and their decisions and mistakes drive events.

It turns out there are three main characters — which I’d have known if I read the blurb rather than buying the book on faith and diving straight in. (I’ve read/listened to quite a few Sanderson novels now and he’s an autobuy for me.) But we get chapters from other characters too. Honestly, I could have lived without some — though not all — of the interludes, because they didn’t seem that relevant to the main story. However, Sanderson has tricked me before when I’ve thought details were interesting but not relevant. He’s the master of literary sleight of hand.

I enjoyed all three main characters: Shallan is very intelligent and quick of wit but also incredibly naive; Dalinar is a hot older guy (I’m showing my age) who is a true noble, big on honour in a society where war and betrayal are almost tenets of faith; Kaladin is young, determined and a talented warrior and leader, but struggles with depression and bitterness due to some awful betrayals in his past.

Although this is a hugely character-driven story, there is a big bad looming in the background, a force or deity called Odium (which I imagine is like the elemental force Ruin in Sanderson’s Mistborn series: something that seeks the destruction of the world and is resisted by a Preservation equivalent). The more you read, the more you realise how all-pervasive Odium’s influence is over the world of Roshar. I suspect from this first book that the disintegration of the Alethi culture of which Dalinar is a part can be attributed to Odium’s influence.

I’m super-excited to read the rest of the series to find out if I’m right.

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